By Dr. Jami Wilder
Jason Collins did it.
Anderson Cooper did too.
And with a national day recognized in October, you would think that everyone is racing to burst out of the closet and announce, “Hey world, I’m Gay!” or “Hey family, I’m Trans!”
But in reality, “coming out” is a process that is not easy and is never really over. The act of disclosing your sexual orientation or gender identity is an act of courage. For those who never have to wrestle with how to tell others about such a core part of self that is so stigmatized in our culture, it is hard to understand just how monumental that act of courage is.
Coming out for the first time is a process as unique to the individual as is the experience of being queer or trans. Some will choose to come out quickly and embrace the queer community. Others may be outed. Still more may choose to share in some settings and not others. Many will choose not to share with anyone and continue to live in the closet.
By the time an individual is ready to share with the rest of the world, she will have in some way reconciled an internal process that moves toward self-acceptance. Coming out is not necessarily an end to that process and does not represent some conclusion to a transformative process. It is part of a person’s journey.
Coming out is also not a static, one-time event. It is something that happens on a frequent basis. It happens because we live in a world that assumes heteronormativity and gender binaries. It happens when partners are mistaken for sisters. It happens when coworkers talk about “those gays” and you have to decide if that is the point to tell them that you are gay. It happens when you fill out medical forms that only offer “male” or “female” as gender choices.
Most of us must decide on a daily basis when, how and where to come out. Part of the decision making process includes an evaluation of safety. It is not always safe – emotionally, psychologically, or physically – to come out. This may be very true for teens who still live at home with parents or caregivers who are not accepting.
Over time, it can get easier. Being in a safe environment helps. Acceptance of yourself makes it easier. Practice with saying the words and correcting others helps. Having allies who speak up and stand by your side does too.
For more information about coming out, check out the Human Rights Campaign’s Resource Guide. If you are a teen or young adult in Rhode Island who needs a safe place to talk about coming out, check out Youth Pride Inc.
Jami Wilder, Psy.D. is co-owner of Wilder Therapy and Wellness located in Cranston, RI. She is also a postdoctoral fellow at RWU Counseling Center.